For years, former state Rep. Juan Carlos Zapata tried unsuccessfully to get his fellow Republicans in Tallahassee to pass a bill allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Florida's public universities.
Zapata left the Legislature last year due to term limits. But a version of his bill is back, this time pushed by one of his former colleagues from south Miami-Dade, state Rep. Dwight Bullard.
Ten states have similar laws in place, but if past Florida legislative sessions are any indication, there is little reason to expect that Bullard, a Democrat, will have any better luck than Zapata in getting the bill passed in the GOP-controlled state House and Senate.
Republicans, who have tended to favor a hard-line stance on immigration, have wider majorities in the Legislature. Gov. Rick Scott campaigned on bringing an Arizona-style immigration crackdown to Florida. And lawmakers have signaled that, facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit, they will not take up measures that could cost the state money.
"It's got no chance," Zapata lamented. "People don't understand the issue; it's an emotionally charged issue."
Yet Bullard sees a glimmer of hope: "It's not an election year, so maybe they'll say yes to something," he told the Miami Herald at a news conference Tuesday at Miami Dade College's Homestead campus, where 75 people gathered to support the bill.
Bullard called the proposed law the "Florida Dream Act," referring to a federal bill blocked in Congress last month that would have granted legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented students and members of the military.
The Florida bill would not change the status of undocumented students brought into the country illegally by their parents. But it would allow some of them to pay in-state tuition at public universities, instead of the significantly higher, out-of-state rates they have to pay now.
The tuition exemption would apply to undocumented students who attended a Florida high school for at least three years, graduated from a Florida high school and register at a public college or university. The students would have to file an affidavit with the institution saying they intend to legalize their immigration status when they are eligible to do so.
The proposal could mean less money for universities, with undocumented students paying lower tuition rates. But Bullard argued that in-state tuition would lure more students, bringing more money to the institutions.